I am a Russian living and working in an English-speaking country. I do have an accent and I hear it in Russian people I meet. Let’s be honest, it is not the most alluring or charming accent. But I have never struggled to find a job. In fact, every role in my career has involved significant interaction and communication. How did I do that?
I relocated as an adult and my English was limited to “How do you do?” and “so-so” and when I didn’t understand a question my instinct was to reply with “No”. I remember going for a game of ten pin bowling and telling the person inputting information that my name was Tanya (short for Tatyana in Russian), yet somehow he managed to input “Danielle” (Eh?!?!) Was my English that bad???
I completed English language courses and passed IELTS on a first attempt, after 4 months of studying. Then a few months later I passed the academic IELTS and started my BCom at The University of Auckland. But it wasn’t until the second year of my tertiary studies that I took a paper focusing on pronunciation. That paper was not connected to my degree, but it was one of the most useful papers I completed. I still remember more about how to position your tongue when pronouncing certain sounds, than what I learnt about commercial law!
The truth is that we must communicate in a way that other people understand. My accent will always be there (it is a part of me and my heritage that I love and respect) but I constantly work on my ability to be understood. I know that I am unlikely to fully master words that have too many R sounds (due to my naturally rolling ‘R’). When I met a girl named Aurora, I avoided calling her by her name for as long as I could. I know my limitations and I know when to slow down and/or speak louder so that the other person can comprehend me.
In my current role as a recruiter I regularly deal with the “English-is-my-second-language” candidates. One thing to appreciate is that during interviews we don’t screen for accents. We do however, screen for communication skills. A heavy accent does not instantly suggest unsuitable communication skills. However, it can become a barrier to effective conversation. Therefore, someone with a thick accent may be screened out of a certain role where communication is key (e.g. IT based support roles, Business Analysts roles, Project Management positions etc.)
There are things you can do to lessen the impact of a strong accent – a few simple solutions are outlined in this article.
If you would like to sound more Kiwi-like have a read and a laugh here.
If you are interested if your accent can hurt your career, here is some interesting research.
Tip #3: Listen to an Accent You Want to Imitate